The Fall Of Milo
What lessons can liberals learn from Milo Yiannopoulos’ demise?
Just days ago, Milo Yiannopoulos, the now former editor for Breitbart news, seemed to be taking his offensive brand of hate spewing to unprecedented heights, and into the mainstream. He had a book deal with Simon & Schuester in the works, a scheduled appearance on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” and was due to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Everything came crashing down this weekend after video footage (leaked by a conservative group) surfaced of the alt-right’s most famous troll voicing open support for pedophilia. Milo was forced to hand in his resignation from Breitbart. The book deal was canceled by the publisher, the CPAC invitation revoked.
Few would have predicted this rapid fall from alt-right stardom. Milo had built a cult-like image as a self styled “provocateur” and leading voice of the libertarian far right. Unsurprisingly, he is a steadfast supporter of Donald Trump (whom he calls “daddy”) and uses the same formula that propelled Trump to the White House to continue energizing the far right: paint liberals as politically correct elites, use unsubstantiated claims to castigate minority groups as scapegoats for supposed societal ills, all while insulting and discrediting any criticism that comes his way. However, Milo takes particular pride in propagating the second tenet of Trumpism: attacking minority groups in the name of free speech and as a rebellion against “political correctness.” Trump and Milo also differ in their dealings with opposition from the left. Where Trump sees dissent, he reacts with hostility. Milo revels in liberal criticism, berating his opponents as either man-hating feminists or social justice warriors. His admirers love him the more for it.
It is this last quality that has made Milo particularly hated by those on the left. His very name conjures up anger, and even fear, in liberal circles. Such hatred reached a tipping point several weeks ago, when students at Berkeley began violent riots to block one of his scheduled events. To some, Milo might present a confounding opponent. He is in effect the alt-right’s premier diversity hire (sorry, Omarosa): when Breitbart gets accused of being anti-Semitic or homophobic, their flamboyantly gay, half-Jewish editor seemingly proves otherwise. Milo’s anti-Semitism, as well as his preference for gays to “stay in the closet,” are seen by Breitbart readers as acceptable expressions of his own identity. While Trump and his administration often choke through their delivery of unfounded claims and alternative facts, Milo presents them with a poised charisma and flair, gaudy clothes and trite British accent included.
Despite his theatrics, Milo’s unseemly demise underscores the fact that protests such as those at Berkeley were a gross overreaction; liberals took him much too seriously. It should not have taken a pro-pedophilia video to put a check on Milo’s popularity. Instead of rioting against him, liberals should have attacked Milo on the merits of his arguments, or the utter lack thereof.
Despite his assertions to the contrary, Milo is neither a visionary, nor a voice of a movement, nor even a journalist. He is a clown, the Pepe the Frog meme in live form, a professional troll who has honed the art and harnessed it to sow discord, and little else. The fact that he was an editor at Breitbart speaks more to the absurdity of calling the site’s product “news” rather than Milo’s abilities as a thinker of any real substance.
While liberals were too busy being shocked by the scale of his offensiveness, they forgot to actually scrutinize his message. Only a peek into Milo’s hateful rabbit hole finds a plethora of nonsensical contradictions. His claims that he could not be homophobic because he himself is gay don’t square up with his professed hatred of lesbianism. He portrays feminism as a man-hating ideology no longer of importance to anyone, yet still finds the need to constantly talk about it. He claims he supports unabashed free speech and against “PC culture,” yet bristles in the manner of the daintiest of liberal snowflakes when called a bigot or white supremacist instead of “alt-right.”
Milo’s contradictions are also seen in the way he carries himself. While he derides college campuses as liberal elitist free speech death traps, he still frequents them for events, seemingly relishing the opportunity to proselytize in an academic forum. He wants to be both lauded as a comedian and respected as a journalist, yet when criticized for his hate speech he either shies away from the latter and professes that he is the former, or simply dismisses critics with pithy name calling. To see him as a radical thinker bent on upending the status quo would be daft; he does not seek to destroy the mainstream as much as crave for its attention.
Liberals might thus think that the key to ridding political discourse of the “Milos” that have infested it is to simply ignore them, cease covering them, and limit them to their right wing echo chambers. In so doing, the argument goes, such voices will not be normalized into mainstream thought. The ineptitude some news outlets have shown so far in covering far right nationalist groups does not help to allay such fears:
The best lessons for countering the Milos of the world came recently from the most unlikely of sources: Real Time with Bill Maher. Last week, the HBO show host invited Milo on as a guest, drawing widespread consternation. Journalist Jeremy Scahill even withdrew from appearing on the show alongside Milo, citing his belief that the show “will be exploited by Yiannopolous in an attempt to legitimize his hateful agenda.” Indeed, an appearance on a popular talk show seemed to herald Milo’s time to shine on the main stage, and his views along with them.
The initial interview with Milo seemed to prove liberal concerns about normalization correct. Maher provided Milo with just the chummy platform for his antics. They bonded over their mutual hatred of Islam, their disbarment from UC Berkeley, even Joan Rivers. Along the way, Milo regaled the audience with jabs about homosexuals being unproductive workers due to too much sex and drugs (though they were apparently better than women), the liberals being the “party of Lena Dunham”, and comedians “contracting feminism,” all while chastising the booing crowd as liberals “too easily triggered.” Maher hardly challenged him on those views, or Milo’s assertions that he has never stirred violence (he has). Then came the Overtime portion of the show:
Milo was joined by former congressman and conservative commentator Jack Kingston, former U.S. counterintelligence officer Malcolm Nance, and Larry Wilmore, a comedian seasoned in the art of cutting through bullshit. Upon starting a classic diatribe on why transgender people should not be allowed to use the bathroom of their choice, using the trademark transphobic slogan that “trans gender people are vastly involved in sex crimes.” Wilmore, however quickly called him out on his bullshit (for the record, Milo is technically not wrong. Transgender people are indeed vastly involved in sex crimes- but as victims, not perpetrators). When Milo then tried to allege that being transgender is a psychological disorder, Wilmore responded to by pointing out the same thing used to be said of homosexuals, Milo quickly opted to burn his “gays can’t be homophobic” card, stating “well maybe it is, I feel pretty disordered.”
“Maybe you are, but most homosexuals are not”
When further badgered by Wilmore and then Malcolm Nance, Milo then retreated to his habit of name calling, complaining to his newfound pal Maher that he must have guests with higher IQs. This drew the now oft-discussed “fuck you” from Wilmore at the suggestion that a former spy, Nance, lacks intellect. Even Maher chimed in, noting: “this guy has done things that allow you to fucking live.”
In the latter half of the segment, Milo was flat out unable to contribute anything to the discussion on actual issues such as voter fraud or Russian hacking, aside form some nonsensical mutterings. Milo’s performance proved Mr. Scahill wrong. Rather than the harbinger of bigotry and hate Scahill made him out to be, Milo seemed more like a petulant child at a dinner party, periodically interrupting the adult conversation with boorish comments. Even though he was given the opportunity, he was not able to properly sit on the big boy chair.
Critics of Maher’s choice to include Milo may point out that many on the right were not dissuaded from their admiration for him. Indeed, Milo still has a host of loyal fans, even after the fallout of the pedophilia video. But a closer look at the performance of Jack Kingston in the show tells another story. Kingston initially seemed to want to give Milo the space for his antics (“in the interest of free speech,” of course). But throughout the segment, he seemed increasingly uneasy in interacting with him. A suggestion by Milo that they would make a “cute couple” reddened the cheeks of the former congressman from Georgia. As did Milo’s insistence on disagreeing with Kingston, so as to receive a “fuck you” from all members of the panel. Aside from some tepid support of Trump’s voter fraud allegations, Kingston did not even seem to want to contribute, at one point joking that “I don’t want another question.” This belies the political danger people like Milo provide for conservatives. With the alt-right dominating the spotlight and discourse heretofore reserved by conservatives, mainstream Republicans must either give up their own values for extremist contradictions, or risk being silenced. Kingston’s decision to sit by idly instead of joining Milo in bed might be a foreboding sign of things to come.
In their dressing down of Milo Yiannopoulos, Wilmore and Nance provided a playbook for dealing with the champions of the alt right (Maher certainly concurs, though would argue for more personal credit). Instead of keeping them in the far right shadows, liberals would do well if they properly dragged them out to center stage. Allowing bigots like Milo a seat at the table of discourse can quickly end in their demise, if they are handled properly. Instead of being treated like run of the mill spokespeople, they must be thought of more as hostile witnesses. Their every statement must be scrutinized and questioned. They must be constantly fact checked and called on their bullshit (Keith Olbermann’s suggestion of running any interview on delay and provide fact checking may prove useful). In so doing, liberals can finally expose alt-right figureheads for what they are: bigoted hacks, and nothing more.